Airbrushing ‘Bans’ Become Full-Blown Marketing Ploy

Photo: Debenhams

First Seventeen publicly “banned” the use of Photoshop last year, and then there was the “did she or didn’t she” kerfuffle over Beyoncé’s ads for H&M last month. Now British retailer Debenhams announced yesterday that they’ll no longer airbrush their lingerie advertisements. The store’s website proclaims that they’re doing so as part of an “inclusivity campaign” to boost women’s self-esteem:

Says Sharon Webb, Head of Lingerie buying and design for Debenhams: “We want to help customers feel confident about their figures without bombarding them with unattainable body images.

“As well as being a positive from a moral point of view, it ticks the economic boxes as well. Millions of pounds a year are spent by organisations retouching perfectly good images… As a rule we only airbrush minor things like pigmentation or stray hair and rely on the natural beauty of models to make our product look great.”

So in other words, they’ll still use airbrushing to “enhance” the pictures (erase a zit here, delete a weird bruise there), just like Seventeen still does, but they won’t use it to change the model’s shape or size.

Of course, the incentive behind this is good press and a female-friendly reputation. Sure, Debenhams’s executives don’t want to go to bed every night knowing that they’re portraying unhealthy ideals for women. But they also know this makes their brand look moral and upstanding, and draws more attention to their underwear offerings than a “normal” ad would (see their un-airbrushed” versus airbrushed ads, above).

What’s more, they’re using it to make their competitors look bad; a spokesperson told the Daily Mail, “We want other retailers to follow suit and encourage positive body-image through minimal retouching rather than bombarding them with unattainable body images.” But perhaps this is better than relying on people like the British Advertising Standards Authority to police such matters; economic incentives are always more powerful than weak wrist slaps.

On a different note: Why just lingerie shots? Why can’t this so-called “ban” apply to all advertising materials?

Airbrush ‘Bans’ Become Full-Blown Marketing Ploy